A Vitriol fiend strikes at Tufnell Park and Highgate



The night of the 30 September 1888 has gone down in infamy as the ‘double event’; the night when the mysterious killer known as ‘Jack the Ripper’ murdered both Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes in different locations, leaving two London police forces searching for him in vain. The Whitechapel murders dominated the news hole for most of the late summer and autumn, only really fading away after the death of the Ripper’s last canonical victim (Mary Kelly) in early November.

During that time the papers continued to report the goings on at the Police Courts however.

At Marylebone Police Court a most unpleasant case came before the magistrate, Mr. Cooke. William Martin, a 46-year-old gentleman (of no occupation’) living on Holloway Road, was charged with throwing vitriol at Winifred Brown and another lady. Winifred had brought her case a week or so before and Martin now apologized (via his lawyer) and promised to compensate her for the damage he had caused to her dress. Clearly his lawyer wanted to circumvent the criminal charge by making this a civil one, of merely damages. His worship wouldn’t hear of it however and closed down these ‘negotiations’.

Now a police inspector came to the stand to present another victim who accused Martin of attacking her in a similar way. Florence Smith and her sister had left St. John’s church in Highgate three weeks earlier and had noticed Martin loitering outside. When, some days later, she came to put on the same dress she had worn to church she noticed it was ‘utterly destroyed down the back, having been burnt into holes’.

Mr. Cooke decided that this was such a serious affair it needed to be heard before a jury, and so he fully committed William Martin for trial. Martin was indeed prosecuted at Old Bailey (on a charge of ‘maliciously pouring sulfuric acid’ on Winifred Brown) but was acquitted.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, September 30, 1888]